By Sue Moore
Planning to feed 1,250 elementary and secondary Vicksburg students each day is all in a day’s work for the school district’s dietitian. What Sarah Dyer didn’t expect to be doing is feeding students with sack breakfast and lunches delivered via bus or picked up at the high school every Wednesday.
She plans for about 17,000 meals per week. The food is laid out and whipped together by her 14-member staff, all considered essential workers for the school district. Others pitch in to help, including the transportation department, administrators and their staff on pickup days. “It’s a team effort,” Dyer explained.
“My staff has always been there with a smile on their faces each week as they put the community’s families first while doing their job. They are lifting cooler bags that are 50-75 pounds all day long while putting together the 14 meals each week for one student. They are moving 100 gallons of milk, and that’s heavy too. It’s heavier work than they are usually doing,” Dyer said. Her staff is paid their regular salary and works 35 hours in the school and at home. When not bagging all the food, they are thoroughly deep cleaning and sanitizing the kitchen.
The team is joined by another 30 people who are going with her staff members on the bus routes. It takes three on each bus, a staff person, a helper and the driver. Each bus is delivering to about 40 to 50 students. There are lots of meals to load on a bus. They have learned a lot and come a long way since their first delivery in March. The drivers report at 3 p.m., load the buses, then get on the road by 3:45. They are back by 5:15 or a bit later, almost like a regular bus run when school is in session.
The menu changes each week. For the week of Wednesday, May 27, breakfast for seven days included cereal and bagels, Rice Krispies bars, nutri-grain bar, sausage biscuit, breakfast pizza. Lunch included mac and cheese, peanut butter sandwich, ham and cheese sandwich, quesadillas, chicken patty sandwich, grilled cheese sandwiches that are already made. Almost all of the food is frozen. They bag it up frozen and put it back in the cooler and freezer. They bought large cooler bags to help the food to stay very cold while waiting to be distributed. She estimates that lunch is about 500 calories and breakfast around 250 to 300 calories.
The challenge is creating a menu and trying to get the items Dyer requests, only to find out that something is out of stock. The school has a contract with Gordon’s Food Service as part of a consortium. She puts in an order on Thursday, then works through the menu again on Friday until she finds everything that’s in stock. It is hard to get the individually wrapped items so she had to move to bagging items like chicken nuggets, which requires extra labor.
“We have doubled from the initial 500-600 meals served each week. It’s so great to see the kids in the cars with windows down and shouting to their principals. They smile when they see a familiar face. They don’t have a clue who I am and I’m perfectly ok with that, as they are getting the nutrition they need,” Dyer said.
By Sue Moore